A few hours before the 5 p.m. EDT deadline for underclassmen in the NBA draft pool to withdraw,…
Steele To Explore NBA Situation
Alabama point guard Ron Steele officially announced on Tuesday that he will explore his options by submitting his name into the 2008 NBA Draft, though he has no plans to hire an agent and is leaving the option open to return to the Alabama team.
"I want to thank all of you for your attendance today, and I especially want to thank Coach (Mark) Gottfried and his staff for the support and guidance of my career," the redshirt senior from Birmingham said in a prepared statement to media gathered in Coleman Coliseum. "Today I am formally announcing my intention to enter the 2008 NBA Draft. I will not hire an agent or do anything to jeopardize my eligibility here at Alabama. Every underclassman has one chance to explore an NBA Draft without risking their NCAA eligibility. This is my time to do so.
"This decision may come as a surprise to some," continued Steele who had his coach, Mark Gottfried sitting by his side in the front of the room. "While I did not participate in any games this year, I did practice fully with the team. Since January I have felt as good physically as at any time during my career. I also believe my basketball skill has never been better. It is my hope that the NBA will invite me to the NBA Pre-Draft camp. If they do, I plan to attend and use it to show NBA staff that I am a healthier, better playing than I have ever been. After attending the camp, I will sit down with my parents and Alabama coaches and review the information from the NBA teams. Again, to be clear, I intend to keep all my options open, including playing at the University of Alabama next season. I support the coaching staff and know that they are supporting me through the process."
Tide head coach Mark Gottfried says he supports his point guard in his decision and his ability to make smart choices now and later in the process.
"I'm going to support him 100 percent. He knows that," said Gottfried of Steele's decision. "I think what you have to remember in Ron's situation, that he's had a difficult year-and-a-half. It's been hard for him. And right now he feels great. I've talked to people in the NBA about how well he practiced and physically as he got in condition and there was no issue at all with his knees, he started looking great. So he feels good right now. I support him. I've visited with his family. I think that Ron and his family will go about this as well as you can. He's got a great support system with his mother and father, and we'll just learn in the future here in the next few weeks exactly those steps that can happen."
Steele already has his University of Alabama degree. An Academic All-Southeastern Conference student as well as a 2007 AP Preseason All-American on the court, Steele graduated in December 2007 with a degree in financial planning. He took a redshirt season this past year in order to successfully and fully heal from two knee surgeries last year. He had arthroscopic knee surgery on both knees on April 3, 2007 and follow-up surgery on his left knee on August 23, 2007. Steele made an immediate impact at Alabama as a freshman in 2005, earning All-SEC honors and setting the Coleman Coliseum record for assists in just the sixth game of his college career when he dished out 18 assists in a game against East Tennessee State in a performance where, despite handling the ball that often and playing 33 minutes, he did not have a single turnover in the game where he was guarding an All-American candidate, Tim Smith. Steele led the SEC as a freshman in assists with 5.0 assists per game. He was named AP All-America Honorable Mention and All-SEC 1st Team his sophomore season in 2006, finishing 8th in the SEC with his scoring average of 15.9 points in league games and led the SEC in free throw percentages at 91.4% in league play. He finished 12th in the NCAA in free throw shooting that year.
He began his junior season in 2007 by being named one of the top five players in the nation in college basketball as an AP Preseason All-American and was named a Playboy Preseason All-America as well and was a Bob Cousy Award finalist as the nation's best point guard. But injuries to both knees found his playing time limited. He played in 26 of Alabama's 32 games, going from co-leading the team in scoring at 14.3 points and starting in all 31 games in 2006 to averaging 8.6 points because of the injuries.
Following his second surgery in August, Steele decided to give himself time to make a full recovery and announced in September that he would redshirt his true senior season. He rejoined the team for practice in late December and quickly became the country's best scout team player as he returned to shape and vintage Steele form.
Previously upcoming senior forward Richard Hendrix had announced a similar plan to determine his prospects for the NBA draft.
Another upcoming senior, forward Alonzo Gee, has not made an announcement regarding the NBA, but it would be no surprise if he followed the examples of Hendrix and Steele.
At least one "Chicken Little" report has it that Hendrix, Steele and Gee all plan to leave the team regardless of the NBA and head to Europe to play basketball next season. Those reports are considered without any substance by those close to Bama basketball.
Meanwhile, the family of Rico Pickett has been quoted as saying that while the freshman point guard has been suspended by Gottfried, it is not for academic reasons. Moreover, Pickett's father was quoted as saying that Pickett will definitely be transferring.
Also in "transfer" news, there have been published reports that upcoming junior guard Justin Tubbs has asked for and been granted a release to transfer to UAB in his hometown.
Other reports, not substantiated, have said that junior guard Mikhail Torrance is also going to seek his release with the intention of transferring to his hometown university, South Alabama.
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